For Tax Refuseniks: A Modest Proposal
March 22, 2005
By Ernest Partridge, The
Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform proclaims that he wants to
"drown government in the bathtub," by which he must mean
abolish government services. What gives government the right, we
are often asked, to seize our property through taxation?
"It's your money!" Bob Dole shouted. And George Bush
repeatedly asks, "who is better qualified to spend your money?
You, or the government?" To the libertarian-right, tax payments
for any purpose other then the protection of individual rights to
life, liberty and property, is theft.
No one likes to pay taxes. But for that matter, no one likes to
pay the mortgage on one's house, utility bills, or car payments.
However, we all understand that if we do not make these payments,
we will be evicted from our homes, or the electricity will be shut
off, or our cars will be repossessed – and justly so.
So here is my proposal: make all tax payment voluntary. If Grover
Norquist and all other like-minded individuals find tax-paying so
onerous, then they may be excused from paying taxes.
The only provision is that if they do so, they are no longer entitled
to the services that are supported by taxes.
- They may no longer use the public highways.
- In case of fire, they can not call the Fire Department to save
- In case of home invasion, armed robbery or other criminal threats,
they can not call the police for help.
- They can not sue for damages in court.
- They can no longer purchase prescription drugs (certified safe
and effective by the FDA).
- They can no longer purchase meat and dairy products that have
been inspected by the Dept. Of Agriculture.
- They can not visit the National Parks or National Forests.
- They can not purchase airline tickets (since that industry
is regulated by the FAA).
- Their bank accounts may not be protected by the Federal Deposit
- For that matter, they cannot use US currency, since it is guaranteed
by the Federal Government. Instead, they will have to conduct
all transactions by barter.
And that's just the beginning of a long list.
Of course, it will be impossible to deprive the tax-refuseniks
of all government services – in some cases they will, of necessity,
be "free riders." For example, the air they breathe will
be cleaner due to the enforcement of clean air standards, paid for
by other citizens. Similarly, they will be safer from foreign invasion
thanks to a military paid for by others.
But all tax refuseniks who are caught using the services listed
above will be assessed charges. In other words, they will be required
to pay their taxes.
Which kinda leaves things pretty much where they were to begin
with, doesn't it?
Politicians like Bob Dole and George Bush keep telling us that
taxes are "your money!" – in other words, that we are
entitled to keep it. Activists such as Grover Norquist demand that
taxes be cut, and cut, and cut again, until government is essentially
eliminated. All this, notwithstanding the obvious
and manifest public benefits that are "purchased"
by tax revenues.
Yet somehow this subversive nonsense strikes a responsive chord
among our fellow citizens. Why is this?
To be sure, many citizens are not opposed to paying their taxes
per se. Their complaint is that so much of their tax assessment
is lost to waste, fraud and abuse. But this complaint is legitimately
voiced by all citizens, regardless of political persuasion – right,
left, and center. Everyone that is except those scoundrels who benefit
from that waste, fraud and abuse.
The solution however is not to abolish taxes, for the above listed
services must still be supported. The answer is improved law enforcement
and harsh penalties. Put bluntly, where there is waste, fraud and
abuse, we should root it out and then nail the bastards – beginning,
appropriately, with Dick Cheney's pals at Haliburton who seem to
have "lost" a few billions of "our" dollars
Next, there is the issue of the fair distribution of the tax burden.
The traditional principle of tax assessment is that it be based
upon the ability to pay. It is self-evidently true that the value
of a constant sum of money, say a thousand dollars, is far greater
to a poor person than to a wealthy person. If a Wal Mart clerk loses
a grand, she and her children will go without food for several days.
If Bill Gates loses that amount, it is of no consequence whatever
to him. Hence
the graduated income tax rates, and the inherent injustice of
Steve Forbes' flat tax.
Similarly, the wealthy individual's income from investments should
not be taxed less than the poor worker's salaried income. And yet,
more and more, the tax burden is shifting away from the wealthy
to the poor and middle class. Once again, this is legitimate reason
for complaint and reform. But meanwhile, those aforementioned public
services must be paid for.
Even so, there is in this country a tradition of the clever and
resourceful tax evader as some sort of a hero. By hiring a coterie
of skillful accountants and lawyers to seek out loopholes, or by
setting up phony off-shore corporations, this enterprising soul
is admired by many for striking a blow against the despised and
unworthy "big government."
In fact, he is transferring his tax obligation to the rest of us,
the honest taxpayers. Somehow, too many of us seem to forget that
as he evades his tax responsibility - legally or otherwise - he
continues to take advantages of the services paid for by the rest
of us: the roads and bridges, the protection of his property and
person by the police and fire departments, the knowledge and skill
of his workers, most of whom were educated at public expense. Some
Next month, as you fill out your IRS 1040 Form or write a check
to the county to pay your property tax or add on the sales taxes
on your purchases, think of what you are paying for with those taxes
– roads, schools, public safety, safe food and drugs, secure investments,
parks and museums, clean air and water, and so much more. And if
you are annoyed by your tax burden, direct your anger not at the
government which provides these services but at the tax cheats and
the politicians who write the tax laws that benefit their "sponsors"
– their campaign contributors.
Government is not the culprit – "the problem," as Ronald
Reagan put it. The authentic villains are the free-loaders who purchase
the tax loopholes and the sweetheart government contracts, and who
thus leave it to the rest us to pay for the vital public services
of which all of us, honest and dishonest alike, are the beneficiaries.
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in
the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He publishes
the website The
Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website The
Crisis Papers Archive